With strong first place finishes in straw poll picks and an unusual bounce in national polls, Herman Cain is now an accidental “top-tier” contender for the GOP primary. But, one group largely ignored is the Republican party’s lilliputian size bloc of Black voters – a little less than 10% of the GOP electorate. How they perceive him may make or break the primary of color phenom.
“I think Herman Cain has taken a lot of conservatives by surprise. Everybody feels like Herman Cain is breaking down myths that Blacks can’t be conservative. He’s breaking down this barrier,” said conservative GOP commentator Crystal Wright.
“He’s this year’s Allen West,” said Lenny McAllister, a Black Republican that has spoken at several Tea Party events.
Dr. Andra Gillespie, a Professor of Political Science at Emory University, argues that the Cain mystique is in his ability to stay off race, yet acknowledge his very obvious African American identity. Ironically, he’s consciously anti-Obama while playing every move in the Candidate Obama playbook.
“You get to see a very different take on what a Black politician is. Herman Cain has this interesting blend of culture and pragmatism and plain spokenness,” argues Gillespie. “He’s clearly from the South, so he was definitely socialized and acculturated in a much more traditionally black environment. He can’t get the southern black out of his voice. At least right now he’s being able to get traction with the style.”
Former Newt Gingrich aide and 2010 Republican candidate for Congress, Princella Smith, said Cain is the “quintessential example of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” combined with a proven track record on understanding economics.
“I feel free enough to say that yes, Mr. Cain can win. This is a rare political year where people aren’t ‘just looking for a new candidate,’” says Smith in an email to Politic365. “They are looking for the person who can present the best and most effective ideas.”
But while many believe Cain’s candidacy is historic for pushing the idea that a Black Republican-with very conservative ideology- can be a successful top-tier candidate, it won’t mean that the self-made entrepreneur from Georgia automatically has the vote of Black Republicans just because he looks like them.
Wright, who writes the blog Conservative Black Chick, said Cain may be attractive to Black Republicans and conservatives because of his 9-9-9 tax policy, views on limited government, religious values, and background as an entrepreneur. But she openly admitted that “I’m not hearing that Black conservatives are putting their support behind Cain. “That’s a falsehood.”
McAllister agrees that it’s not in the bag for Cain. “[Black Republicans] are not all lining up behind Cain,” though he doesn’t believe they’re behind popular conservative GOP’ers Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry either. “He will have to show how jobs will come back to urban America, Black America.”
Richard Ivory, a self-described “neo-conservative,” who started the Hip-Hop Republican blog believes Cain’s run is important to the “larger narrative” of Black Republican candidates. However, he wants to see Cain reach out more to the younger generation who are still divided in their search for a candidate.
“Cain has a history with [older] Black Republicans. He does not have a relationship so much with younger Black conservatives,” said Ivory.
Raynard Jackson, a Republican political consultant, agreed that Cain, who represents the older oriented Tea Party, needs to find ways to engage young Black Republicans and the Black community at large. He believes that Cain should hold a community forum at a historically black university or college in order to attract younger Republicans, a larger Black audience, and – more importantly – free coverage from the mainstream media.
But, reaching out to Black Republicans may not make that much of a historical difference, adds Jackson. And there are plenty of dissatisfied Obama voters (including Black Republicans who quietly pulled that lever in 2008) who won’t support another Black candidate so soon … just because he’s Black. “A lot of folks will say we’ve tried this Black experience once and look what’s happened. Folks are still trying to digest this first Black president.”
The issue of race has naturally crept into the public consciousness a few times this political season, most recently over a white-washed rock that until recently had the words “Niggerhead” scrawled across it, marking the entrance to a ranch owned by primary juggernaut Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Many Black Republicans say that Cain appropriately dealt with the situation and that, if anything, they wanted stronger language from him.
“The irony of all this is that most Black Republicans I believe [will go for Perry], because Perry reminds them, I think of Bush,” said Ivory. (Bush received 11 percent of the Black vote in 2004).
Cain’s campaign does not appear to have a known strategy to court Black Republicans (particularly conservatives) or Black voters at large [communication about this subject with his campaign went unanswered]. Still many Black Republicans say if he can sharpen both his message and his policies, he might be their candidate.
“I just want to be educated a little more,” said Wright. ”But, Cain as a potential candidate … would be at the top of the list.”